San Diego Comic-Con’s proper name is Comic-Con International: San-Diego, but most of what makes headlines is strictly domestic.
This is unfortunate, as there are hundreds of amazing comics that come from publishers all over the world — many of which have a presence at the annual convention.
Still, it’s hard to get excited about things that are hard to find, and when you don’t have the reach of Marvel or DC, it’s easy to get lost in the noise.
But one French publisher is boldly jumping out into the fray. On the Monday before Comic-Con, noted French comics publisher Delcourt Group announced a partnership with digital comics retailer Comixology to make more than 150 French titles available in English.
In a statement announcing the news, Comixology CEO David Steinberger called it “the beginning of the ‘French Invasion’ of comics in the English-language market.”
While time will tell if Steinberger’s on to something or not, French comics have begun to slowly penetrate American pop culture over the past few years — critically acclaimed movies like “Blue is the Warmest Colour” and “Snowpiercer” are both based on French comics, and graphic novels like “Beautiful Darkness” and “Last Man” have received overwhelming praise by the US comics press after being translated to English.
It also helps when some of these French titles, like “The Curse of the Wendigo” (one of Delcourt’s debut titles on Comixology) feature talent already well-known in America — like artist Charlie Adlard of “The Walking Dead” fame, who collaborated on the title with writer Mathieu Missoffe.
“It was difficult to do it in a subtle way,” Delcourt CEO Guy Delcourt told Business Insider, laughing about the sudden blitz of titles on Comixology. “Either you do it or you don’t. We have such a big well of comics which are unknown to the American public, so it’s a pleasure to dig into it, and hopefully to have people realise how diverse and thrilling a lot of them are.”
Delcourt is a 29-year veteran of the French comics industry, and has visited the crowded floors of San Diego Comic-Con many times in the past, mostly looking for English-language comics to publish in his home country. Delcourt’s company is the French publisher for comics ranging from “Star Wars” to “Hellboy,” with some Japanese manga thrown in for good measure.
When asked about what makes French comics special, Delcourt gives a simple answer: They’re all personal.
“We don’t have a main genre, like superheroes in the States, and we are very creator-oriented, so what probably makes them special is that each of them stems from the personality of the writers and artists,” Delcourt told BI. “Also, the way they’re created is probably — it’s the least industrial thing you can imagine, I would say. Compared to comics or manga made in the studio way. It’s very rare in France to have a penciller and an inker — usually the artist does it all most of the time, the colour, too. So he or she would take one year to do fifty pages … they try to make it as powerful and rich as possible. Not putting down American comics, I love them — but it’s not the same approach.”
It’s this more intimate approach to comics that Delcourt hopes will resonate in the US and the rest of the English-speaking world. Choosing a digital partner like Comixology is certainly an excellent first step, since its the easiest way to reach new readers who aren’t prone to wander into a comics shop — where the French comics format (called bandes dessinées) runs into another set of more logistical problems since they are larger than US comics and don’t really fit standard comic racks.
“We know that it is not something that will happen overnight,” says Delcourt. “We have a solid program for two years, and it will probably take more time. And I don’t believe that French comics will work as a whole, because they are individual stories and have strong personalities. I don’t see them as a global thing, like manga. Hopefully a few of them will work and will make people want to read more. And also, hopefully they will be read by professionals in the film industry. If some American films were created based on French comics, it would certainly be helpful, and it certainly is one of our indirect goals.”
As for which title he has the highest hopes for, Delcourt mentions “Come Prima” by the cartoonist Alfred.
“I love the idea that you can have this story that is really heartfelt — it comes from his family, two brothers on a trip to Italy because their father has died,” says Delcourt. “It is a road trip, something with feelings and emotions but it is also a very simple, straightforward story. So this is quite touching, and the artwork for me is also, for me, artistic, but also simple, very accessible. I do hope that it will reach quite a few people.”
“All in all,” says Delcourt, “I think [French comics] gives readers a different flavour — although the American audience will find things with which they are familiar: Horror, thrillers, supernatural stories, sci-fi, fantasy, etc — but done in a different way. What I hope is that this different way will make them special and interesting.”
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